By Scott Taylor
Last week’s elaborately staged photo-ops in Kurdistan, Iraq and Kuwait quickly backfired on Prime Minister Stephen Harper when his office breached security protocols by posting videos online that clearly revealed the faces of Canadian special forces operatives.
From the outset of Canada’s commitment to combat ISIS in Iraq, the Conservative government has conducted a persistent fear-mongering campaign aimed at frightening Canadians into blindly supporting this military endeavour. To paraphrase the Conservative rhetoric, our brave soldiers are fighting genocidal terrorists “over there” so that they don’t murder us “over here” in our beds.
To hammer this point home, it became policy that media were not to publish the names or reveal the faces of any Canadian Armed Forces personnel deployed to the Middle East. No longer was it just the mysterious, elite Joint Task Force 2 troopers who could not be identified, it was every army cook and air force mechanic who had to be protected lest ISIS identify them and target their defenceless families back home in Canada. To date, the media have diligently complied with this policy.
However, in their excitement over having footage of Harper and Defence Minister Jason Kenney doing their best to present a commanding martial presence near the front lines, Prime Minister’s Office staffers goofed. The footage, which they first uploaded, made no attempt to hide the identities of either the protection forces in Kurdistan, nor those of the air force personnel at a hangar in Kuwait.
In what has become typical fashion, when the security gaffe was noted, the videos were removed, but the PMO claimed there was no wrongdoing because the Defence Department had already vetted the footage. This was not true, but by that point the military was already clinging to the bus’s undercarriage. In an attempt to defuse the situation, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson sent out a statement to the effect that it considered the breach to be of “low risk” to Canadian personnel and no soldiers would be brought home as a result. Always quick to twist a phrase, Kenney told the House of Commons that there was no harm, so no foul.
During the same fateful junket, Lawson used the proximity of the attendant media corps to put forward his spin on the March 6 friendly fire shooting incident. That tragedy left Sgt. Andrew Doiron dead and three other Canadian special forces operatives wounded following a nocturnal fusillade of gunfire from a Kurdish checkpoint. In the wake of that incident, the local Kurdish commanders had been quick to blame the Canadians for their own misfortune. They claimed that the Canadians had arrived unannounced in an area where they were not supposed to be. One Kurdish officer told the CBC, “You don’t conduct training on the front lines,” implying that the Canadians were exceeding their training mandate at the time of the shooting.
In response to the Kurdish allegations, Defence Department officials said they were waiting for the full results of the investigation before giving comment. Unofficially, however, an anonymous “well-placed” source contacted a few gullible mainstream media contacts to give them the “inside scoop.” According to the mole, Canadian soldiers had done everything correctly that night. They had informed the Kurds they would be arriving at the outpost and had even agreed to use an Arabic phrase as the password. Now, given the fact that Kurds speak Arabic like most Albertans speak French, and our Canadian boys don’t speak Arabic but ISIS does, that would make this part of the tale laughable if the outcome wasn’t so tragic.
Now Lawson has gone one step further by stating that the findings of the yet-to-be-released investigation report indicate that the Canadians acted perfectly that fateful night. In lockstep, all the stories fueled from Lawson’s comments were headlined with the theme “Canadian soldiers not at fault.” Given that there were only two parties present at the scene, that means the Kurds had to be at fault. While Lawson alluded to the fact that fatigue may have been a factor, Canadian soldiers know that this would not justify manslaughter inside the military justice system.
The reason our soldiers are deployed to Kurdistan is to train the Peshmerga into a professional force. If their ill discipline leads to the death and injury of our soldiers, they need to learn that, in a professional army, that comes with consequences. If a Canadian soldier mistakenly killed Doiron and wounded three others, he would be facing serious charges, even if he was dog tired at the time.
Let’s remember, it was the Kurds who shot our guy and then they bad-mouthed our troops’ professionalism. Why does it seem our government is trying to pacify them?